Monday, December 19, 2016

How Microtouchpoints Can Elevate the Customer Experience

In a recent blog about technology-enabled customer experiences, I introduced the concept of the “microtouchpoint” and its importance on delivering a great customer experience in a technology-enabled world. Think for a moment about all of the interactions you have in daily life – at retail, at restaurants, while traveling, etc. that incorporate high-tech elements.

At hotels we have electronic keycards tied to an app.
At airports we have self-serve kiosks to access our boarding passes.
At restaurants we can order and/or even pay the bill via tablet.

All of these technological advancements can make you feel like we have officially moved passed the imaginary technology that captured our imagination in the original Star Trek series or the Jetsons cartoon!.

My story about Starbucks in that blog is a perfect example. I now order everything from the app on my phone and simply pick up my completed order, but still have microtouchpoints that build my relationship with the baristas at my local spot.

Recently I was traveling for business (I know, shocking) in San Diego and was looking for a spot to grab dinner. I hopped in an Uber (chalk that whole model up to a pretty spectacular tech-enabled customer experience too, btdubs) from the airport headed to the area I would be staying, which was a very industrial office park. Wanting something in walking distance wasn’t going to leave me with a ton of options, but I happened upon one of those conveyer belt sushi joints.

A host greeted me warmly and walked me a short five feet to my seat (microtouchpoint 1 = 20 seconds). Then I was asked, by a bus boy, for my drink order (microtouchpoint 2 = 5 seconds). For those of you who have not experienced this dining trend yet, you basically sit at a sushi bar with conveyor belts moving in front of you carrying every different variety of sushi. You simply pull the plates you want off the belt. When you finish you insert the plate in a slot in front of you and it calculates your total based on the number of plates you deposit. This particular restaurant had two belts – one for the standard menu items and one for custom orders that would stop right in front of you. An iPad was affixed to each station allowing you to order. Pretty much everything was automated, from ordering, to plate removal, to paying my bill. In addition to the first two human interactions mentioned above, there was one more and it was my drink refill (microtouchpoint 3=10 seconds). An entire meal (and I was lingering awhile – over an hour) with less than a minute of human service combined, and all were seamless and pleasant.

Then there was one last, but meaningful, microtouchpoint. An employee saw that I was about to order a soft serve ice cream for dessert on the iPad and in one swift move, whispered a recommendation for a frozen tea dessert instead in the same area. I checked out sans dessert and took his advice. It was packed when I got there and amazing! I spent my time at the restaurant catching up with my older son by phone and still had a great customer experience made up from microtouchpoints that not only provided me with the service I wanted and needed, but also gave me a great local dessert recommendation.  My only question was trying to figure out how does one tip with this minimal about of service.  What do you think?

Another recent example of technology changing the customer experience in the hospitality industry, is at hotels. As a matter of fact, several companies have made it possible for you to check-in and access your key , allowing you to skip the whole old-school check-in process, and instead head straight to your room.  The unintended impact is a shift away from the guest and employee creating a personal connecting during check-in. 

This inherently changes the roles of staff at hotels. The front desk employee will of course still be there, and happy to help. However,  I now see a bigger role for the folks who used to be seen as much more peripheral – like the bellman and housekeeping. You may have more contact and engage with these roles for a greater length of time than you do with a front desk person. A hello in the hallway from a housekeeper might become your only human touchpoint in a hotel stay.  This creates a heightened need to truly understand and define the microtouchpoints. and maybe equally as important to think about, how it impacts hiring decisions for these roles. If the people on the periphery are not our key touchpoints, do we have to change who we are hiring and why? What we pay them? How we train these employees? It’s the same thing that happened with the person who sat me and refilled my water at the sushi restaurant. There was no waiter. But my engagement was at least as strong with someone refilling my water because he took the opportunity to engage via a microtouchpoint!

The roles that used to exist in the background, are very much evolving with the microtouchpoint model. In a way, each one of these roles – from busboy to housekeeper – are now wearing a chief engagement officer hat, aren’t they?

Businesses are moving toward tech-enabled experiences that are helping people move past the mundane, transactional stuff more quickly and spend more time in the heart of the customer experience. The under-a-minute microtouchpoints are very much a new and unique opportunity to engage customers and enhance their experiences.

One last story that relates to this. Recently a friend was with her young daughter at Disney World in Orlando. Now, it’s no secret that Disney hires very uniquely. We know, for example, that they refer to their staff (all of them) as cast members. Everyone from the parking ticket attendant, to the custodial staff, to Cinderella, has the same cheery disposition and will tell you to have a “magical day” and mean it!

On this trip, my friend was sitting outside at one of the restaurants in Tomorrowland as a man walked up to sweep up some trash. Simultaneously, a little girl walked out of the restaurant in full Elsa garb and wearing an “It’s my birthday” sash. Without missing a beat, the man stopped sweeping and used a tool he had on him that had a piece of chalk at the end, to draw a 15-second picture of Mickey Mouse with a Happy Birthday message right in front of her. It was so slick and subtle but an incredibly amazing example of a microtouchpoint that certainly impacted that little girl’s (and her parents’) experience. He saw her birthday sash as a cue, and sprung into action to do something that had been ingrained into him somehow through Disney. Happiest place on earth indeed!

Here’s the net net of the whole thing. You can absolutely enhance the customer experience with technology, as long as you maximize the microtouchpoints.
And now more than ever, they are  coming to life through unexpected people. It changes the perspective about who you hire for these roles. People who used to blend into the woodwork are now your primary touchpoint, and people who used to be primary have a reduced role but they still need to make it count. So how do you accomplish that?


Your front line employees need to make the experience  personal, like the dessert recommendation from the busboy and the impromptu street art from the sweeper at Disney. The possibilities are there and they are endless and it’s up to you to help  your people make each interaction count, no matter how small. Engage them in how important they are to the customer’s experience and how they can elevate the customer experience by making it magical… one micro experience at a time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Canned Customer Experience

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know that I have started a grassroots campaign to help businesses see the impact their CX is having on their customers and their loyalty.  I am both professionally (as a customer experience expert) and personally (as a savvy consumer) invested in helping companies everywhere understand the need to be at the top of their game in terms of customer experience, if they are going to win and retain the hearts and minds of their most important asset, their loyal customers.

There’s no shortage of promises, proclamations and CX strategy prototypes created by leaders, all with great intentions to deliver great CX to the customer while positively impacting business results. It looks and sounds great…on paper but what’s really happening in the trenches? Does the CX actually match what you make it out to be in promise-filled presentation decks? How about service recovery? Inevitably the CX will breakdown at some point and recovery is key to saving and even clinching a customer’s loyalty. In fact, a customer who has had a problem that is resolved to their satisfaction is actually more likely to become loyal than one that has had no problem at all.  How about that?

Here’s what I am noticing, and it’s NOT great news in the world of service recovery.

After I shared my poor experiences with Brooks Brothers and Hertz, there was a glaring commonality in the communication I received initially from both companies. Almost immediately after I shared my blog, tagging these companies on Twitter, I received a response. Both companies asked me direct message them with more information. A fair enough request, and so I did. But what happened from there involved a series of canned responses that put more work on me - the customer - and the person who already feels burdened with a bad experience. Whether it was to provide further details, answer a series of “due diligence” questions, or fill out a questionnaire/survey, I was putting in more effort than I really wanted to without understanding where it was all leading. It wasn’t really until I pushed back in both situations, that the conversation was elevated to a more senior position. That’s when the real conversations started and that’s where my service recovery differed dramatically. Hertz really stepped up, and through a series of personal emails and even a phone call, they cleared up any discrepancies, but more importantly, they listened and heard what I had to say and responded through actions and sentiment that let me know they wanted the chance to earn my loyalty again.

Listen, I understand there has to be some sort of vetting process when complaints are lodged through social channels. However, I fear that these “canned” responses are becoming a dangerous standard for companies who see them as enough to suffice for a strong CX. It’s NOT! You wouldn’t tell a disgruntled customer standing in front of you to fill out a form, would you? You would talk to them, listen and resolve their issue quickly and with care.  Consumers are living, breathing individuals whose wallets and hearts are inextricably linked, and the CX and service recovery experience needs to be personalized too.  A personal email or an individualized text or phone call goes a long way.
Sorry Brooks Brothers, as I write this blog on a short plane flight, I am typing it in a new blue and white checked dress shirt, tie and slacks from…yes, Men’s Wearhouse. However, I will be hanging my sports coat from the hook in the back seat of my Hertz rental car because I am giving them another chance based on their service recovery yet I have not visited your stores in months, and since I am in a suit and tie 5-6 days a week and hope to be working for the next 20 years…well, you do the math.

Let’s kick it up a notch and get away from the canned customer experience mentality. Agree or disagree? Tweet me @GMagenta or email me at and tell me what you think!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Technology is Enhancing the Personal Connection with Your Customer, NOT Killing it!

As I rang in my birthday a couple weeks ago, the CRM-churned emails and text messages began rolling in. One by one my inbox and phone were flooded with birthday wishes from my doctor, car dealerships,  investment houses and others I do personal business with.

Do I appreciate the sentiment? Of course! However, I’d be lying if I said that the “Happy Birthdays” surrounded my flickering candled animations felt flat and mechanical. And it’s not just from business-related sources. Even the e-card from my own mother seemed to lack that warm and fuzziness that comes with opening a handwritten birthday card with a perfectly placed stamp.

However, the issue here really is not the technology-driven wishes versus the handwritten ones. It’s about the lack of personalization. Without that personal connection, how can you possibly forge a relationship…right?

In the midst of pondering this challenge, my cell phone rang and my wife answered it. It was Dave from Volkswagen of Naples, FL calling to wish me a happy birthday. As a matter of fact, he has called every year for the last three years on my birthday. The birthday wishes are peppered with questions about the weather in Chicago, what I’m doing for my birthday, is everything okay with the car I had bought for my wife, when are we back in Florida for season. He asks all the right questions to maintain and further our personal connection. And you know what? He still used a CRM system to even remember my birthday and prompt the call,  but where he changes the game is by adding personalization. In addition to the conversation with me, he also took the time to have a conversation with my wife to alleviate her concerns about a recent recall, assuring her that it did not impact her beloved Beetle convertible.

Now, I know you must be thinking, ‘well of course you have a personal relationship with him because you bought a car from him after sitting in painful and obligatory negotiations and mounds of paperwork’. That’s not accurate. I actually bought the car online from the dealership and we only met when I picked up the keys. However, he has made a point to contact me over the years, and every touch point  is packed with personal moments that have actually built the relationship that was not established during the sales process. I essentially avoided everything I hate about purchasing a car but I still got the personal experience necessary to feel like a valued customer.

This is one of many experiences that reinforces for me that it’s not technology that’s killing the customer experience, it can actually enhance it. You see, in the case of the car purchase, the drudgery of the face-to-face purchasing experience was eliminated, along with any potentially negative sentiment I might have had, and the subsequent interactions I have had with my VW representative have all been to support the purchase that I made online.

And it’s not just the big purchases where there is a chance to build relationships that transition from online to personal. Every Saturday morning, after a long bike ride, I place an order through my Starbucks app to get my wife, Angela, her London Fog Latte, extra hot, no foam, with coconut milk.

From there, this is how it usually goes as I walk into Starbucks in full biking gear.

“Angela?”, yells the barista.

“That’s me!”, I say

“Where did you ride today?”

When I tell him, he keeps the conversation going, telling me he loves the food in that neighborhood and makes some suggestions. On my next visit, I tell him I went back and tried the carnitas. He showed genuine excitement and interest asking if I went to Don Pepe’s because it’s his favorite!

What happens between us during every trip to pick up my wife’s coffee, is what I call a microconnection. These 20-second interactions, all based on a personal connection formed because the barista was able to make a connection with me based on me wearing a bike helmet. He picked up on a simple cue and made it into a personal connection, which over time feels like a relationship….a relationship built on a series of 20-second interactions.  
Not only does online technology NOT hamper the personal connections necessary to good customer experience, but it can actually help you bypass the transaction and focus on the relationship!

Don’t let the influx of kiosks and self-service checkouts make you feel like you can’t personalize the customer experience. Instead, let it strengthen the customer’s independence and then use the extra time with them to work on building your relationship.

Rest assured that technology isn’t the culprit to failed customer experiences. In reality, it gives you more time and opportunity to forge the relationship, so USE IT!

Monday, November 7, 2016

What I Learned About Customer Experience From The World Series

In my 53 years on earth, I’ve never been a sports fan. I don’t play anything, don’t watch anything, and don’t have steadfast loyalties to any league, jersey number or team.

But, I found myself in an interesting situation this past week while in Columbus, Ohio for a 3-day conference and wound up at game 7 of the World Series. That’s right! A colleague who I work with in Root’s Chicago office convinced me to make the road trip to Cleveland to see our hometown team play because even without being a diehard baseball fan, this was sure to be a once in a lifetime experience. Well…since I am ALL about experience, my interest was piqued; we spent an unreasonable amount of money to secure tickets through Stub Hub and headed to Cleveland.

At the risk of sounding cliché, from the moment we arrived there was magic brewing. There was palpable excitement in the air coupled with the nostalgic smell of hot dogs, and roasted peanuts being peddled throughout the stadium. The stadium was buzzing with passion oozing from loyal fans of both teams wearing their team’s colors at every turn. Pete Rose was commentating from his box and Bill Murray and Charlie Sheen were there as celebrity representatives of each side.

Masses of people set out to find their seats and settle in to witness a little piece of history. The hour and a half chunk of time of our early arrival flew by in the blink of an eye as I took in every sight, sound and smell in that stadium. Once friends, family and colleagues learned I was at the game, my phone was blowing up with text messages.

“You are at the game?!?!”

“You are part of something really big right now!”

“You are literally witnessing history!”

My colleague and I sat in our seats, in full business attire, having impulsively come straight from a conference, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the sea of jerseys, logoed shirts and hats and even painted faces. But still I didn’t feel out of place. As a matter of fact, fans from both teams welcomed us into this special  community with open arms. I was part of this little club now that I barely knew existed.

And every text message and comment from my friends and the crowd was spot on. I witnessed freaking history. Sports fan or not, it was impossible NOT to get caught up in the energy and excitement of what I was watching.

That’s when I realized something – all of this was not about the “game”, it was about the experience. It was about everything that experience represented – the fans, the food, the celebrity. It was about a moment in time where you feel like you are part of something big. And it was about the support, engagement and camaraderie of the community of people sharing this moment in time with one another. I left the game vowing to be loyal to the Cubs forever and to go to as many of their games as I can next season, I have found myself researching the team and the players, learning their names and their history. I had fallen in love!

All of this was making my wheels spin. My work is based around customer experience and I just had one of the most unforgettable ones of my life. So, in my mind, I knew there was a parallel to be drawn regarding business.

And here’s what I came up with. It’s not just about the product or service being sold. Yes, I bought tickets to watch a baseball game, a game between the Cubs and the Indians, but that’s not what it’s all about. The World Series game was the product I bought but what has made me loyal, what will keep me coming back, was the overall experience. For heaven’s sake, I’m still not sure about all of the rules of the game yet or the names of the players.

So, think about that and what your company is doing to create an overall experience that captures the hearts and minds of your new customers, your first timers who may be skeptics or even indifferent to your product or service. What is the experience that you can offer that has them committing to coming back, to learn more about your organization and to want to be part of it.

And huge congrats to the Cubs! It was more than worth getting back at 3 am and having to be up a few hours later because it’s an experience I will never forget!

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Concierge Level Customer Experience

I’m populating my blog with real stories, about customer experiences I am having in my everyday life. My last couple of examples have really shined a light on some challenging experiences but there are really great examples of customer experience out there too, and I am happy to be sharing this one with you!

This experience is from the retail trenches and just happens to be about trenches -the coat kind. I wanted to share my insight on an experience with Burberry and my trench coat situation. Or rather, my wife’s trench coat situation.

When we first moved to downtown Chicago a few years ago, outerwear became a huge focus for us, as Chicago has varying levels of “cold” and we don’t have a car so we walk just about everywhere. I noticed that my wife started coming home with a new and different trench coat every week. Why? Because she couldn’t find one that really met her needs. The constant temperature changes had her feeling like one was too thin, one was too thick – kind of like a Goldilocks situation and she still hadn’t found her “just right”.

I knew she was very fond of Burberry’s trench coats but couldn’t wrap her head around the hefty price tag that accompanied them. I tried to reason but she wouldn’t even go and look at them, I told her that I would buy her one for Christmas and she still said no. In the meantime, the collection of trench coats in our front hall closet continued to grow and I made my last plea. “It would be worth the investment since you are spending money every week on a new and evidently inferior trench coat. Plus, my Uncle Mel (the inspiration behind my book, 720 Haircuts) has one and it lasted him a lifetime!” I knew, firsthand that it was a well-made product and I knew that I was going to buy her one or risk having to call in those people from the reality show “Hoarders” to declutter the growing collection of trench coats permeating every closet in our condo.

Now, with Burberry on the brain, I started to do my own research. I looked into trench coat options for my wife. I dug into the history, the fits, the colors, and the further I went in, the more enthralled I was with the story behind the brand. It was one steeped in history, built on legacy with a good dose of mystique and modernization to stay current with fashion trends while maintaining their classic look and feel.

Because of my wife’s petite frame, I zoned in on Burberry’s slim fit designs, selected the coat and went about trying to find the best price. I searched the internet for the best deal and had plans to purchase it online. However, one July day while strolling along Michigan Avenue we were passing Burberry and I convinced my wife to go into Burberry and “just try one on for size”.

The warm welcome was immediate. We were greeted at the door and asked what we were shopping for. This open-ended question opened the engagement floodgates. I told them all about my research and wanting to see the slim fit trench coat for my wife. My wife shot me a look as if to say, “When did you become a Burberry expert?” And that’s when we met Elgie.

It was clear off the bat that Elgie, one of Burberry’s sales associates, had very deep expertise in and passion for the product. He asked A LOT of questions – tell me about your lifestyle? What do you want the coat to do for you? For which seasons? Etc. And then….he listened. Like really listened. We were brought to a dressing room, offered champagne and my wife was offered a makeover, seriously “do you want to have your make-up touched-up while you’re here?”  WOW, she passed but I thought if they could do something about my love handles that would be awesome, but I digress.

Elgie brought in several styles of coats he thought we might work well for my wife, including the one that I told him I had selected online. He also immediately brought an expert tailor into the dressing room. Wow, that’s an assumptive sale right there.   Champagne in hand, a private dressing room, a tailor and Elgie asking all the right questions and using his expertise and passion to offer his opinion and advice on which style and fit he thought was best, I was here to stay. Elgie, was acting as our advisor as he and the tailor shared their expertise. This guy was making customer experience magic happen and he took it beyond just the coat when he started asking what restaurants we liked in the city and began to made recommendations on places he thought we should try. He wasn’t selling us a coat he was offering a concierge level experience and he did it authentically.

Elgie was beginning to build a relationship that went beyond the coat! You see it’s never really all about the product, it’s about the experience and we were having one worth writing about.

“What will we do to keep Mrs. Magenta’s neck warm?” was the next question and Elgie brought over an array of classic Burberry scarfs including one overlaid with magenta polka dots. “If the woman’s last name is Magenta how can she not have a magenta scarf?” Point well made, Elgie! How could any logical shopper argue that point? Plus, it looked damn good with the coat. SOLD!

From there he went on to show us the 12 different knots you can tie with the belt on the trench coat and where we could find the instructions online.  This man was good. I was in. My wife, however, pointed out that it was July and 97 degrees outside, and she didn’t need a coat for months. She said it was expensive and now with the scarf too. She wanted to really give this some thought… but I wasn’t leaving without giving this man the sale. I mean, if I knew I was going to buy this coat for her for Christmas anyway, there was no way I was not buying this coat from this man at this store, no way!

He took the time to forge an emotional connection with us and understand our needs as buyers, down to every last detail. Elgie took someone (me) planning to purchase a trench coat, online, six months down road, at the best price, not only to purchase that coat in the store, but also the magenta polka dot scarf. Elgie offered a concierge-level customer experience that easily justified the price of this “expensive” trench coat and even changed my wife’s mindset from, “this is ridiculous” to “this makes complete sense”.

So much so, that I did purchase earlier than planned and so Elgie went to the basement of the store to get a brand new coat, already boxed from inventory for us to take home.

And let me point out, I realize this is a very high-end product from a high-end retailer. But this same level of customer experience can be translated to ANY level. The experience wasn’t about the champagne, I didn’t even drink it. The story is about creating an experience that goes beyond the product, building an emotional connection with your customer, being a trusted advisor and delivering an authentic experience just as if you were the owner of the store.

The story doesn’t end there!

When my wife opened the box a day later, there were some tags and buttons missing. When she went to store Elgie was not there. The associate who helped her was very apologetic and explained it must have come from a mannequin and immediately got her a new coat. The associated opened and inspected everything in front of my wife to make sure she had that Goldilocks moment – everything was just right and she was very satisfied with Burberry’s service recovery.

A few days later I received a call at from Elgie letting me know he was back at the store and expressing his apologies and asking what he could do to make it up to us. The answer was nothing. Elgie, and the staff at Burberry had done everything right, and despite the little hiccup at the end, we were satisfied (and now loyal) customers. The great customer experience at Burberry is not limited to just Elgie.

To this day, Elgie still texts or calls about once a month checking in and asking if my wife is wearing her new coat and even inquiring about if we’ve tried the restaurants he suggested.

Overall, Burberry nailed the customer experience. They did a stellar job selecting the right man and training him to deliver one of the best customer experiences I have ever had. Elgie acts like an owner and is 100% authentic, but also has the finesse and product knowledge to back it up. Great customer experience comes down to the people, so big shout out to Burberry for setting the bar high.

I asked Elgie what drives him to deliver this level of customer experience and he told me he has a concierge mindset.

In his own words, Elgie says, “Creating a unique and personalized experience is what drives me to provide great service. I am a demanding and savvy shopper; so I treat everyone as if they are as well. I know what it takes to WOW me, so I taper my service to each customer and look for ways to go above and beyond using a unique approach. I feel it is extremely important to connect with customers on a personalized level in order to build an emotional connection, where you are no longer looked upon as a sales associate, but as a trusted advisor.”

Well, Elgie, that is exactly what you did. You knocked it out of the park and because of it, we are loyal to Burberry and to you.

Anyone else have a feel-good customer experience to share? Email me at and tweet with me @gmagenta using #customersforlife.

You can also check out my latest book, 720 Haircuts for more customer experience stories.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sometimes a Poor Customer Experience Really Hertz

For those of you who caught my first blog in a series of real customer experience stories, allow me to provide a brief update. I recently recounted a chain of negative experiences I had as a customer visiting Brooks Brothers.

Once that post went live and was shared on my social channels, I received a direct message from Brooks Brothers, via Twitter, asking me to take the conversation offline. Fair enough. Once offline I was asked to fill out online forms to clarify and explain the situation further. The communication back from Brooks Brothers included two canned responses followed by contact from a district manager. The manager was very respectful, inquisitive and specifically cited the Michigan Avenue incidents and was looking to rectify the situation. She explained that she was replacing the management in that store and we discussed and agreed that a store manager can be the trigger point between a good and bad customer experience. While I appreciated her reaching out about the Michigan Avenue store experience, I explained that the problem went much deeper than that and seemed to be ingrained in their overall consistency and customer experience since this was not the only location I had issues with.

She told me she would elevate our conversation and I am currently waiting to hear back from a higher-up at Brooks Brothers. The proverbial ball is and has been in their court for the past several weeks.

Now let’s move on to another customer experience story. This one involves the well-known car rental company, Hertz.

My family and I made plans this past Memorial Day to leave the hustle & bustle of our downtown Chicago digs and head to the suburbs for a Memorial Day picnic. For city folk, venturing to the burbs can require renting a car. Since we didn’t plan on an overnight stay, I wanted to rent a vehicle with a 24-hr pick-up/drop-off window and pay for just one day of use.

This proved to be difficult on a holiday weekend since many car rental companies were not open on Memorial Day to actually take the car back. However, when I called the Hertz 1-800 line they are able to find one Hertz location in Lakeview, Chicago that would allow me to return the car on Memorial Day and stay within the 24-hour window I wanted, in order to only pay for a 1-day rental. This particular location is either a taxi ride or one-hour walk from our condo and since it was a beautiful day, I chose the latter. I get the car the night before our drive out, bring it back to my condo and park it in the garage and then woke up the next morning to drive my family to a nice Memorial Day picnic. The whole time, I was super conscious of the time restraints and the need to get the car back within the 24-hour window. After a great day with my family at our friend’s barbeque, I drop everyone off at home and head back to the Hertz Lakeview location to return the car. When I arrived the office was dark and the door displayed a “Closed for the Holiday” sign. There was no representative to process the return, but there was an after hours kiosk. I filled out all of the necessary information – fuel level, stall where I left the car, etc. – and dropped the keys and accompanying paperwork in the lockbox provided.

My 24-hour rental plan was a success! At least I thought it was. Then I got the bill that Tuesday and it was DOUBLE what it was supposed to be. They charged me for two days even though I had confirmed I could drop off the car on Memorial Day before I even rented it, and dotted all of my I’s and crossed all of my T’s. What the heck happened??
I immediately made a call to Hertz’s Lakeview location and they said “we don’t do returns on Memorial Day.” However, I knew that was not the case since I had deliberately and specifically confirmed that detail with the reservations agent at their 1800 reservations desk prior to rental. But the location wouldn’t budge and told me to contact corporate. So I did. And guess what they told me? They DID in fact take returns on Memorial Day through the kiosk and I needed to call the location back. So I did. And it became the most frustrating back-and-forth with neither side willing to call the other directly. I’m confused…aren’t you guys on the same team? Aren’t I the customer?

I was done being a human ping-pong ball and stopped calling Hertz and instead called American Express, explained the situation and they immediately took the charge off my bill and filed a dispute with Hertz. American Express resolved the issue quickly and I was credited for ½ of the charge, THAT’S what should have happened from Hertz on my first call instead of sending me to act as mediator between Hertz corporate and the Hertz Lakeview location. Major fail chalked up to internal disconnect.

I want to add just a little bit of context to this story. You should know that I had been a loyal Hertz member for 20+ years, even after my company switched to National. I was literally the last to make the jump and it was the cost savings to our business that eventually guilted me to part ways with Hertz. Why is this so important? Because it shows that when someone is loyal to a brand, it’s difficult for them to make a change. What I realized was that in my 20-year relationship with Hertz, I was blind to the bevy of changes many other car rental companies had made over the years as they evolved their respective customer experiences. Everything at National showed an elevated customer experience - from the warm greeting at National’s Emerald Club, the cold bottle of water waiting for me and the ability to actually select my own vehicle. Once I realized how National had upped their customer experience game, it wasn’t hard to be loyal.

My choice to go back to Hertz for my Memorial Day plans was 100% about procuring the most inexpensive transportation I could. However, they did have a chance to gain my loyalty back and prove they were the better choice after all. But frankly, they blew it and my loyalty remains with National. It is difficult for customers to change once they are loyal to a brand. If they leave, you may never have the opportunity to get them back and if you do, you better not blow it.

Anyone else have a customer experience nightmare to share? Tweet with me at @GMagenta. Email me at

You can also read more about my take on customer experience in my latest book, 720 Haircuts.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Experience with Customer Experience – Brooks Brothers vs. Men’s Wearhouse

Many people have hobbies, some more adventurous than others. Sometimes I bump into my neighbor, Jean, in the elevator of our building. A stout 70-something woman, she is often carrying a rifle as she is on her way to shooting practice. Of course she’s only taken up rifle shooting as a hobby since she gave up fox hunting on horseback. I don’t indulge in shooting practice, golf or tennis or even power walking, but I am in fact a power shopper. That’s my hobby, so to speak. Along with my wife, we can furnish a house or load up on wardrobe essentials for each season in record time and make a sport out of it. I would even dare to say that I could be a gold medalist in power shopping. We are savvy, know what we like and are loyal to brands that treat us right. The consumer part of me loves the act of shopping, but the customer experience expert lives for the experience itself – from a sharp and quipy exchange with the vendor of hot dog cart to a hot deal on a bar cart from a knowledgeable purveyor of mid-century furnishings.

In my line of work, I am inundated with customer experience stories. I hear all about them from clients, friends, family and I dissect them – the good, the bad and the ugly. Most importantly I experience customer experiences firsthand as an avid consumer. So, this got me thinking…I’m in an interesting position to combine those two very different lenses and provide insight on who’s winning at customer experience and who might need a trip back to “How to treat a customer 101” class.

This post will be the first in an ongoing series where I share my own personal customer experiences from online to waiting in line, from paying a cable bill to being handed a playbill. I will be naming names, sharing bright spots and the dark side of my customer experiences too, and shining a spotlight on how all customer facing businesses can deliver a great and differentiated customer experience to every customer, every time. Aggressive? Maybe, but it’s all part of my mission to help businesses in every industry deliver a customer experience they can be proud of, and promote loyalty with their customers.

In my first installment depicting the yin and yang of customer experiences, I want to share a recent experience I had with two retailers, on the same street, in a similar business. You’ll find out who won my loyalty and who lost it.

Brooks Brothers vs. Men’s Wearhouse
Recently, I was traveling home from a business trip and landed on a Friday afternoon at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. I passed the Brooks Brothers in the airport terminal and spotted a great looking sport coat. I like the quality and style of Brooks Brothers’ clothes, specifically when buying clothes for work. When I took a closer look at the sport coat, I saw that it was even discounted 50%, taking it from $599 to $298 (SCORE!). Truthfully, I would never be in the market for a $600 sport coat because my weight fluctuates dramatically and frequently, so I steer away from buying very expensive clothes that I know will only fit me for the next 90 days.

I needed a 38-Short (I am on the downside of the yo-yo diet right now) but the airport location only had a 40-Short. The sales associate helping me said he didn’t have it in my size and that was it. No suggestion of perhaps checking another location. He did however offer to alter the larger size with me paying for the alterations. That completely defeats the victory of a great sale. So I left sans sport coat and went about my day. Being a savvy customer I should have asked him to check another store but I was in a rush to get home after a long week, it would have been a great impulse buy but it was not to be.

The following Monday, I was out and about near my home on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Since there is a Brooks Brothers just steps from my home, I decided to pop in and see if they had the sport coat in my size. I found a sales associate, told him about the coat, he found it and it fit like a glove, no alterations needed! When I asked the sales person to confirm that the jacket was 50% off he told me the sale ended Friday and it was back to the full price. When I explained that I was really interested in this coat because of the great sale and explained I had just tried it on a few days earlier he turned on his heels abruptly and walked away without responding and leaving me in the dust of his dismissive attitude. I thought surely he was returning, he must have had an irritable bowl situation and he would be right back. Not the case, after waiting a few minutes for his return I started to make my way toward the front of the store and found him waiting on another customer. I left, again sans sport coat, but this time also feeling disgusted.

I should also add that this was not my first fail with Brooks Brothers. At another location, I had purchased a $180 sweater. I followed the washing instructions to a T and still it shrunk, dramatically. When I brought the sweater back to exchange it and explained the situation, the woman helping me said “that’s what you’re saying happened, how do I know if you really followed the instructions? We’re not taking the sweater back.” Oh my, really? That’s nice. The sweater was a week old and went from a men’s size medium to a Ken Doll’s size medium, and I’m being called a liar to boot…fun. I literally called the corporate office in NYC from my cell phone while standing at the sales counter at the store, and got someone there to help me get the situation resolved.

I have to say that I did have one recent very positive experience at Brooks Brothers’ Naples, FL location, where the sales associate was super helpful and engaged. It was 1 out of 4 experiences so it was hard to celebrate. It does however highlight the inconsistency issues that plague many multi-unit businesses, and in this case, the Brooks Brothers customer experience.

Now I had a hankering for a well-priced sport coat and was on a mission. I walked down the street to Men’s Wearhouse. I don’t particularly like the clothes there, I had a belief that I could do better elsewhere in the area of quality and selection. But it was close and I was on a mission so I went in and that’s where I met Frederick. I mention him by name because from the beginning, he was one of the most friendly, personable and engaging sales associates that one could ask for. From his greeting to check-out he spent time getting to know me and advising me, asking me great questions about my needs and showing me other items I might like in my size, paying attention to every detail of our interaction and delivering a friendly, personal, differentiated customer experience. You’ll never guess what happened. Not only did I purchase a great sport coat at the price point I wanted, but also ended up spending $2400 on an entirely new work wardrobe!

Now, admittedly, the clothing is not the same quality as what you find on the racks at Brooks Brothers, but Frederick was so engaged and engaging and took the time to build a relationship with me that he was able to find the clothing items that would work for me. He calls to let me know when alterations are ready. He calls to check that everything is okay with my purchases after the fact. Because of his level of attention and commitment to me as a customer, I am literally there every other week, to purchase clothing from HIM. I also have to admit that this is not the first successful experience that I have had at Men’s Wearhouse either. I have had a consistently good customer experience in their stores across the country. Today I have to walk 6 blocks further from my house and pass Brooks Brothers to get to the closest Men’s Wearhouse and I am happy to do it. Amidst all of the ways Brooks Brothers could prevail, I choose Men’s Wearhouse every time because of the experience Frederick, and his colleagues across the chain, provides me. You may actually say that Brooks Brothers drove me right into the arms of Men’s Wearhouse.

You should know that I am not alone as a consumer. Everyday, your brand is interacting with people just like me  - in stores and online. They have the opportunity to knock it out of the park and wow us with the customer experience. They can also come up short. Creating a great customer experience and delivering it consistently across your business is job one!
Need help figuring out where you fall? Let’s chat about it. Tweet with me at @GMagenta. Email me at

You can also read more about my take on customer experience in my latest book, 720 Haircuts.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Today's Managers...Yesterday's Shopkeepers

Customers can feel the culture, tone and atmosphere of a store the moment they walk in – or click on. Who determines that culture? Is it the corporate office? Is it the frontline employees? Maybe. Partially. But the key determinant of the culture of any store is the manager.
And, crazily enough, managers are the most underinvested employee segment in business. They’re pretty much left to figure out how to do their job on their own.
All great managers have one thing in common: They act like owners. These guys and gals:
  • Know their business: the marketplace, the competition and the consumers.
  • See their role as “Chief Engagement Officer,” not as just a great individual contributor wearing a manager’s badge.
  • Engage their teams in the culture, business, strategy and in delivering the Customer Experience.
  • Drive results through their employees.
Like this time I was shopping for a piece of art for my Chicago condo and fell in love with . . . wait for it . . . a 4×4-foot plexiglas photograph of Hugh Hefner smoking a pipe in the basement of the original Playboy mansion on State Street in Chicago, just a few blocks from where I live.
Yes, surrounded by Playboy bunnies.
True story! Now, what says “Chicago” more than that? I had to have it! My wife’s only objection? The price (that’s right, just the price). So I asked if the piece came in any other size, in the hopes that something a bit smaller would be more affordable. The sales person quickly dismissed me with a wave of the hand. “Oh this is an original. This is the only one.” And walked away.
Lucky for me (and the store) the manager was nearby, and he’d heard the conversation. He said, “Sir, have you purchased with us before?” I said, “No, I haven’t, but I’ve been window shopping with you for months.” “Oh great,” he said. “I can give you a first-time-customer 10% discount on that piece.”
BAM. Bought it right then and there, and went back that same day and emptied my pockets at that store even further. That manager knew what I wanted and was able to make a real-time decision to win me as a customer and begin to create a loyal relationship. That manager was acting like an owner. It wasn’t just the discount – it was his knowing what to do and how and when to do it.
Now, what happened to that hand-waving sales guy? And is his behavior that manager’s fault? Well, I don’t want to take up word count here – I want to give you some tips to help you improve your business starting today – but I do go into all the juicy details in my book, 720 Haircuts: Creating Customer Loyalty that Lasts a Lifetime. (And yes, there’s a story behind the title too.)
Empowering Your Managers is as Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4
Here are 4 ways you can start empowering managers to act like owners TODAY. Think of this an investment in delivering a world-class Customer Experience.
  1. Take managers offline to learn about your business and their role in it. Don’t let your manager feel like the best individual contributor on the team, make him or her feel like a business owner! Every manager in your organization should understand how their success is driven by the success of their team. The best managers are the lynchpins between the corporate office and the frontline. It’s up to you to make sure people understand this critical function of being a manager.
  1. Immerse them in your industry, the marketplace you serve and your strategy to win. As people deepen their understanding of the marketing, the competition and consumers, they’ll feel like the experts they are and bring that confidence to work with them. This will make your customers trust them, seek them out even and hopefully, if all goes as planned, become loyal customers who appreciate the knowledge your team provides them. All because you took the time to invest in your managers and give them all the knowledge they needed to truly understand your organization and your industry.
  1. Let them make decisions as if they owned the store, while upholding the standards of the business. Encourage and empower your managers to make split-second, real-time decisions that convert window-shoppers to buyers and first-time customers to loyal ambassadors. Yes, organizations have protocols set in place that should be followed . . . in most instances. But, be sure your managers understand when on-the-fly decisions are safe risks with big customer experience rewards.
  1. Build their skills so they can be CEOs – Chief Engagement Officers – of their teams. Your managers should view their role as Chief Engagement Officer, someone who main responsibility is to engage, coach and empower their team members. The best managers? The ones who understand the business and know how to engage each of their team members to this mission too. It’s all about driving results through their team members.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you are sure to see the benefits. It might not be easy and will take time and effort on your part, but empowering managers to act like owners is an investment in delivering a world-class customer experience.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Online is the New Frontline

How long is 30 seconds? Okay, yes, it’s half a minute. But what does 30 seconds really mean to the customer experience? Sometimes, not that much. Like if your cocktail gets placed on the bar 30 seconds after your companion’s – that’s barely noticeable. But when you’re a busy traveler with a cell phone in one hand, a briefcase in the other and luggage to carry, racing to go to another appointment . . . it can be a huge deal.
I travel extensively for work, and sometimes on more than one airline in a day or a week. One day, I was checking in for a flight with Airline A at a kiosk. It was intuitive and speedy – a great experience. The next day, I checked in at Airline B’s kiosk. I thought, “Am I crazy, or does the wheel on this computer screen keep spinning and spinning? Why is it taking so long? Is the machine broken?” I hit the restart button and found that it wasn’t broken at all, but the “think time” that computer needed was considerably longer than Airline A’s computer. I did some research later and was able to verify that there was a full 30 seconds difference between kiosk check-in times on these two airlines! In the case of Airline B, 30 seconds was all it took for me to become a frustrated, disengaged customer who would no longer willingly be giving them my business.
Just a few years back, it was commonplace to call a reservation desk to get information and make travel plans, and then gone to an actual agent to check in for my flight. That agent would’ve had some customer service training in how to treat a traveler. Now, people pretty much do all their own research, bookings and check-ins online and at self-serve airport kiosks. But don’t we still want and deserve a stellar customer experience?
I hope this isn’t too big of a news flash, but: ONLINE IS YOUR NEW FRONTLINE. And everyone involved in the creation of that online experience – from the coders to the designers to the developers – should understand the customer, their needs and wants, and what the goal at every step in the process is. From the very start, your customers’ online experience has to be flawless and have a competitive edge. If you keep them waiting for 30 seconds, well, that half a minute can be all it takes for them to choose your competition.
I challenge you: Think of the online experience as what it really is . . . An EXPERIENCE. It’s not about transacting – it’s about creating loyalty with your customers.
The Online Experience Blockbuster Didn’t Deliver
“People are always going to want to come into our stores for movies and games. They want the store experience and the guidance and recommendations of an associate. Netflix is not a threat to us.”
Those are the words I heard at Blockbuster’s headquarters in 2001. The executive team was getting a lot of flak from investors, and even customers, for not buying a still-struggling Netflix for a mere $50 million in 2000. In 2004, the peak for the business, Blockbuster employed 60,000 people and operated 6,000 stores. Back then, Netflix simply allowed you to select movies and games online, get them in the mail and send them back in prepaid envelope. Both brands offered movies and games for rent, but only one offered a differentiated experience online. Blockbuster was so committed to the concept of in-person service that they didn’t think the online option would be a threat. Yes, the chose to ignore the online experience. Bad decision.
It doesn’t matter if you have the most unbelievable brick-and-motor location with the most fabulous staff and exciting in-person perks – you cannot let your online experience fall to the wayside. Customers start with the Internet. They’re going to look up you (and your competition too) before they step foot in your door.
Your web presence and its look, feel, usability, intuitiveness, and functionality – they all represent and may replace your retail space and the customer experience itself. If your online presence can’t do everything (or almost everything) offered in your physical space, you’re probably not going to lead potential customers there or entice them to purchase online, let alone make them loyal.
The Blockbuster and Netflix story isn’t about the technology changing from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray to streaming media. It’s about the changing wants and needs of consumers who are focused on convenience and immediate gratification and satisfying those needs.
Want to ensure you’re delivering a differentiated customer experience online – one that entices people to leave the house and visit your physical location or order through your website? It’s time to reevaluate what you’re doing online. These 3 steps are imperative for your longevity and financial success.
  1. List out each and every touch point of the online Customer Experience. Think of each interaction as if your customer were in a physical location being assisted by a live person. What would that interaction look like? Feel like?
  1. Identify the all employees or teams responsible for creating that online experience. And I mean everyone – programmers, web designers, etc. Take the time to teach individual online programmers and designers exactly who your customer is and what that customer expects at every touch point – not just the ones they’re responsible for. They might be thinking of the fastest way to code something, but not understanding how their decisions not might impact the customer’s experience later. They need to approach their behind-the-scenes work as if they are a shopper themselves.
  1. Create a consistent Customer Experience. Create in-person opportunities for your new “frontline” technology team to meet your actual customers and their counterparts on the literal This will help with step number two in so many ways.
I discuss the importance of the online experience and every other issue related to establishing customers for life in my latest book720 Haircuts: Creating Customer Loyalty that Lasts a Lifetime. If this article has piqued your interest, check it out! Or leave a comment below so we can continue this discussion.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Creating Customer Experiences that Differentiate Your Business

Customer Experience (CX) has moved beyond buzzword status. Today almost all organizations are laser-focused on trying to deliver customer experiences that truly differentiate their businesses. By that I mean creating the type of customer-driven company that doesn’t just please customers, but gives them exactly what they need and want time, after time, after time in an effort to establish customers for life.
It’s not easy. It’s not often achieved. But, it is possible. To be successful in today’s über-competitive online and global marketplace, you MUST be committed to creating an emotional connection between your customers and your brand.
That’s right.
A strong emotional connection is what will have people talking about you, paying more for your products or services, and walking past your competition to get to you. In other words, that emotional connection you make is where customer loyalty lives.

It is your company’s fingerprint, individual to you and your business.

I believe so much in the importance of creating emotional connections that I wrote my latest book,720 Haircuts: Creating Customer Loyalty that Lasts a Lifetime, on this very topic. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2, “The Customer Experience Revolution:  We’ve All Been “Starbuckized.”
To understand the importance of the Customer Experience today, we need to take a deeper look at the past.
During the first half of the 20th century, retailers focused on creating loyal customers by establishing an emotional connection. In a bricks-and-mortar store, this was done face-to-face, but it was quite possible to do it another way – through mail order, the ancestor of online shopping.
One of the best examples of a company that built an emotional connection to its brand was Sears and Roebuck, originally a mail-order business. You could order just about anything from the Sears catalog, from clothing to housewares to farm tools. (Does this sound familiar, Amazon shoppers?)
And as for an emotional connection? Well, when the Sears catalog arrived in the mail, that was a good day! For most people, rural or not, this was their basic link to the latest trends, their window into everything from the current fashions to technological advancements. It was literally a “mall in a mailbox.” No matter your age, geographic location, or economic status, that catalog bonded people – farmers with bankers, generations of all ages, and faraway friends.  Everybody loved it. And they remained loyal customers for life.
Up through the 1950s, women who worked in the home were called “housewives” or “homemakers,” and they made an art form of running a household and managing a family.  Those were the days when people actually changed drapes in the spring and fall, when there was a difference between “play clothes” and “school clothes.” Moms stayed home to manage the house and family, dads worked from 9 to 5 without ridiculous extra hours or weekend travel, and going out to eat was for special occasions only.
For the most part when people shopped in stores, it wasn’t for fun; it was for a purpose.  “Retail therapy” wasn’t for the masses. During the Great Depression and World War II, people had learned to be frugal. The average family had a budget. Mom carefully planned a weekly menu and visited the grocery store just once a week. She shopped at an independent market where the owner knew her name, gave recommendations, and likely checked her out and bagged her groceries. People shopped for clothing for a season at a time – the four seasons being winter, spring, summer, and “school.” And shopkeepers delivered a quality Customer Experience with a personal touch.
The satisfying Customer Experience of those early years all but disappeared during the social upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s. The 1960s had been a sort of boom time economically, but the 1970s took a financial u-turn. Prices went up, commodities went down, and no one’s salary was increasing. Women left their aprons in the kitchen and joined the workforce to add to the family income – but they were still running their households, resulting in a huge time crunch. A dual-earner household required speed and in-the-moment convenience. Mothers, and now dads, became over scheduled and needed to get more done in less time at a lower cost.
At the same time, the Women’s Liberation Movement was in full swing. Following the fight for Civil Rights, women were stepping up to claim an equal place in businesses. Nearly every advertisement for women’s products highlighted this, from Virginia Slims cigarettes’ slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” to Enjoli perfume, whose theme song included the lyrics, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.” Helen Reddy’s #1 hit song of 1972, “I Am Woman,” became the de facto anthem for millions of women who were striving to expand their horizons past the white picket fence.
So no matter what the reasons – economic need, convenience, time crunch, empowerment, or all of the above – the world was changing. These unprecedented shifts in marketplace forces required an unprecedented response from the business world. Women were entering the workforce just as the economy was turning sour. The convenience needs of the American family soared, and businesses saw the economies of scale and greater levels of profitability that could be reached with new store formats and in different shopping venues.

Changes in the Game of Retail

Those downtown stores that opened at 9 and closed at 5 eventually went out of business.  Giant shopping malls started popping up everywhere. They housed multiple shoe stores, department stores, jewelry boutiques, and bookstores, where consumers could compare similar products before deciding what to purchase.
Consumers were shopping in a new way, and retailers were staffing to meet the changing needs. To offer what consumers now demanded – speed, convenience, and low prices – retailers no longer hired “career shopkeepers” who took pride in sharing their expertise, being a trusted advisor who spent time with each customer. Instead, they hired hourly workers who were simply seeking a paycheck. Hourly employees weren’t required to be enthusiastic or knowledgeable about what they were selling. They were warm bodies who were merely expected to efficiently process a customer and move on to the next person in line.
The average consumer wasn’t expecting personal service at this time. The rules were different.
Today’s customer wants the satisfying customer experience of yesteryear along with speed and convenience, and they want to fall in love with the companies they are doing business with. Yes, fall in love! “I love Starbucks,” “I love Amazon,” “I love Disney.” The word love in combination with a company is commonplace today and it’s because these companies are offering a differentiated experience. Customer experience is the final frontier. Those businesses that don’t focus on delivering a differentiated customer experience, those companies that don’t have a customer-first culture, end up in the graveyard of failed businesses . . . and there is always room for an extra headstone.
So, let me ask you this: What if all your customers fell in love with your business and the experience that you created for them? What if their love was so deep they would pay more, drive farther, and literally step over your competition to get to you? What if your customers shopped with you with their emotions as well as their wallets?
Trust me, this is possible! Take my Uncle Mel for example. For the last 60 years, he has visited the same barbershop, without fail, for his monthly haircut. The location and the employees have changed over the years. But no matter where he’s lived, from a few blocks away to over a 100-mile round trip, he has been unwavering in his loyalty. Twelve haircuts a year for 60 years … that’s 720 haircuts – and counting!
And believe it or not, ANY brand is capable of generating this type of loyalty. Over the years, I’ve learned from some of the best companies that there are simple yet essential elements to inspiring loyalty. Yes, there is a proven formula! And establishing an emotional connection with your customers is paramount. Start there and you’ll be on your way to achieving the ultimate in customer experience.
For more insight and practical tips from “720 Haircuts,” or to purchase a copy for yourself (or dozens for your employees!) visit Amazon today.